When it comes to saving America’s local free press system, Washington state’s delegation is among the most supportive in the nation.
JCPA appears to be the best hope for this Congress to address a journalism crisis that’s seen 60% of newspaper newsroom jobs and a fourth of America’s newspapers evaporate over the last 15 years.
The JCPA would enable news outlets to collectively bargain fair compensation from tech giants using their news content. It’s not an absolute solution but it’s a critical part of a broader effort to stabilize and sustain local journalism.
Washington’s representatives nearly unanimously supported another bill, offering temporary tax credits to news outlets, but it was cut from the last big spending package.
It’s time for the delegation to join Democrat and Republican colleagues supporting JCPA.
“To preserve strong, independent journalism, we have to make sure news organizations are able to negotiate on a level playing field with the online platforms that have come to dominate news distribution and digital advertising,” lead sponsor U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., said in a release.
Washington state publishers concur. Several said that getting compensated by platforms for content would be a lifesaver.
All are searching for revenue to replace advertising lost to online competitors and cover soaring costs to produce and deliver local news coverage.
“No question this would be a game changer that would put us much closer to long term viability as a business by reducing pressure to cut newsroom jobs and raise subscription rates,” said Stacey Cowles, publisher of The Spokesman-Review.
Representatives are surely hearing from JCPA opponents, namely Google, Facebook and their allies.
Furious lobbying is underway now that JCPA is finally getting traction. A revised version surfaced last month and could receive a hearing in the coming week.
Hopefully, Cantwell and other members hear just as much from constituents wanting Congress to help save local journalism.
JCPA would give news outlets a fighting chance with a temporary antitrust exemption, allowing them to collectively bargain. That’s especially needed for small outlets that don’t have resources or leverage to individually negotiate with tech giants.
This is not a subsidy or tax. It’s a way to get paid for work, before the last workers are laid off and the lights go out. A similar policy in Australia is enabling most of its outlets to sustain and rebuild newsrooms.
Opponents are sowing uncertainty and doubt, including nonsensical assertions that it will hurt journalists if their employers get paid for their journalism.
They’re also conjuring boogeymen, even though the real culprits are tech giants. It’s disappointing that hedge-fund controlled newspapers are included, but it’s all or nothing. Once the industry stabilizes, restoring local ownership should be the next priority.
JCPA helps an entire industry by correcting a market imbalance. It encourages private parties to solve the problem themselves with no tax dollars.
Don’t forget what underpins JCPA: Findings by Congress and regulators that Google and Facebook engage in unfair competition.
These companies produce wonderful products and employ brilliant people. They’ve even supported some news organizations. But Congressional reports found their anti-competitive business practices harm the press system essential to democracy.
So think of JCPA not as a windfall. It’s a way to help news outlets get paid by freeloaders that are being sued for unfair competition.
If JCPA passes, Google and Facebook are expected to pay several billion dollars yearly for content.
They already pay billions for content. Facebook recently said it will pay $1 billion to people creating short videos and Google paid out $30 billion to YouTube video creators over three years. Last year they had combined revenue of $375.6 billion and costs of $250.1 billion.
Meanwhile “creators” producing essential local journalism are trying to find footing as their business shifts to a digital realm dominated by tech giants.
“Anything that helps us level the playing field with these large social media companies would help maintain and/or enhance our journalism offerings,” Ben Campbell, publisher of The Columbian in Vancouver, said via email.
Campbell said it remains to be seen how much clout independent papers will have if JCPA passes. But the current imbalance is clear.
“I think for a long time, our industry hoped digital advertising revenue was the answer to our sustainability but that has certainly not played out like we thought it would,” he said. “It’s an important piece of the pie for us, but with large social media companies swallowing up so much of the local digital advertising spend, it leaves scraps for local media companies who produce the content.”
Josh O’Connor, president of Everett-based Sound Publishing, said JCPA is one of multiple things needed as the industry evolves.
“Yes, it’s going to help, no question,” he said. “But I see it being more of an opportunity to continue to invest in the news gathering resource of our business, which is critical. The other aspect, the transformational aspects of our business, that needs to be addressed.”
Sound’s parent company, Black Press, negotiated agreements with Google and Facebook in Canada in 2021. That included some papers that O’Connor manages.
“It’s helped through the pandemic our ability to get people back to full-time hours and be able to invest in the critical journalism we need in small towns throughout British Columbia and Alberta,” he said. “It’s a small portion toward that at the end of the day but it certainly is helping a bit.”
Cowles said the JCPA as currently written “would give us an upper six-figure boost toward covering the cost of our newsroom.”
“Google and others have transformed traditional retailing, classified advertising with search and massive scale digital publishing, gutting traditional media business models,” he said. “They take our headlines without permission and claim linking back to us is fair compensation. But not all headlines yield clicks and few clicks generate much return. It seems fair to ask for compensation up front to use our work — even just a headline — on a search page.”
I hope Washington’s fine delegation agrees.